Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A Touch of Provence in the Heart of Toronto

Many vines have a secret ambition to take over the world. 

Vines can be shameless opportunists who rely on plants, trees or other things to reach toward the sunlight. They are also a bit ungrateful. They'll swamp a host, and some vigorous vines like wisteria, have the potential to snap and break the wood trellis that humbly supports them. 

Why do we even think of entertaining such brash thugs in our gardens? Because they can be incredibly beautiful of course!

This stone house, with its rustic wooden shutters, may look like it belongs in Provence, but in reality, it is in the Lawrence Park area of Toronto. 

The house's simple grey-beige facade looks down from on high as you approach. In its tall windows you can glimpse pots of geraniums sitting in the sunshine. 

Two stone staircases offer you the choice to climb to the left or right of the house. The main part of garden lies to the right, so that is the way we will go.

Wisteria trails its way up the exterior and greets the visitor with the subtle perfume of the honey-scented blooms. 

It is as if a thousand of purple butterflies have landed on the front of the house!

Briefly About Growing Wisteria:

It's unquestionably glorious, but before you dash out to the garden centre this spring to buy a Wisteria, remember that this is a vine that demonstrates a desire for world domination. Wisteria is native to China, Japan and the eastern United States. It can grow as much as 10' in a single year. Asian Wisterias are on the USDA list of invasive plants. This is a vine that can travel underground emerging some distance from the main plant, where it will climb on whatever plant or tree it finds. 

Wisteria flowers in spring with occasional summer flowers. It likes a sunny spot with good drainage and slightly alkaline soil. A protected spot away from wind is best. Wisteria vines benefit from regular watering when in flower and during dry periods. Wisteria is hardy to Zone 5.  

Wisteria needs a heavy hand to keep it under control. Here is are links to a few articles on pruning: Fine Gardening's Pruning and Training Wisteria and RHS Guide to Pruning Wisteria.

At the top of the staircase, there is a little glass house leaning against the side of the house. 

Inside are garden tools, metal watering cans and wooden shelves crammed with stacks of orange colored terra cotta pots. 

The garden is largely in keeping with the Georgian style of the house. 

Under the shade of a tree is a staircase that leads down from a large patio at the back of the house. On either side of the steps there are Bleeding Hearts, baby-blue Forget-me-nots and yellow tulips.

Bleeding Hearts

Common Bleeding Heart, Dicentra spectabilis: This common variety is still one of my favourite Bleeding Hearts. It takes a few years to come into its own, but when it does, Dicentra spectabilis forms a generous mound of fresh green foliage. You can refresh the plant after it flowers by cutting it to 6" above the ground, but even so, it will go dormant by late summer. Light to full shade. Height: 70-90 cm, Spread: 70-90 cm. Average to moist soil. USDA Zones 2-9.

Toward the back of the property there is a formal garden with an urn on a pedestal at its centre.

If you cross the expanse of lawn at the side of the house and head down another set of stone steps the visitor will discover a small patio area.

A few ways to introduce a little Provencal style into your garden:

• Add metal details. Incorporate a wrought iron fence or metal patio furniture. Even easier and more affordable, use rusted metal ornaments.

• Buy a colorful market umbrella.

• Use candles in glass hurricanes or drape strings of white lights to add some nighttime magic.

• Use natural stone or flagstones.

• Dot rustic containers filled with annuals around the garden (Lightweight fiberglass urns that look like stone might be one option. Plastic lined baskets or big terra cotta pots are two other good choices.)

• Mix cottage style plantings with a formal flower or herb garden.

So what do you think? 

Are you brave enough to try to grow a wisteria or is it a vine 
best admired in someone else's garden?


  1. I've admired wisteria all my life, but have never had a good spot for it, so it has to be admired from afar by me. However, I do grow Bleeding Heart and did not know they can be cut down to 6" after blooming. I will do that this year and hope for a second flush. They must be as tough as nails because my husband chops mine down every fall before I can get to it, and believe me, he is not a gardener! :) But, they come back faithfully every spring. Loved touring this serene garden. It must take a crew to keep it so pristine. Lovely!

  2. I bought a house with neglected wisteria on the lot 3 years ago and I would say NO. Don't grow it unless you are a dedicated gardener who will be keeping a constant eye on it. This property has wisteria 40 ft high in trees with trunks the size of my thigh. On one large pine, the vines have climbed into the tree 20 ft away from the trunk - I am still figuring that one out. It took me 3 years to cut everything at the base, cut down all the vines on about 1/4 acre and pay to have it hauled away. Now I will spend the next 5 years spraying Roundup on the recrudescing shoots.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience with wisteria Beverly.

  3. Stunning! I love love love this place and that greenhouse is to die for. Thanks for sharing!

  4. If I was to plant wisteria (and I do love the look and smell) I would go for the native species. All the sites I've looked at say that is not nearly as aggressive as the Asian species. We are looking for vines to grow up for privacy... and it likes shade which is a benefit in my halfway shady back yard.
    I already have multiple bleeding hearts... they are so lovely!.

    1. I did read that the native species was a better choice. I also read it has less flowers and a softer fragrance. I'd love to hear if that's true. Even if it is, I would favour less flowers and less of a potential problem.

  5. I let out a big sigh of relief that you pointed out that the exotic wisteria is invasive. It is a huge problem here in the southern U.S. I bought a native one this year, yet to put it in the ground as I am waiting for my husband to put in the heavy support structure it needs. The blooms are magical. This garden has a very classic landscape design. The bones and perennials are lovely. I wish my bleeding hearts were so lush!

    1. I hope you will write about your experiences with the native wisteria on your blog Karin. I would love to hear how it works out.

  6. There are several wineries around here that have wisteria growing and it is gorgeous. It seems like a lot of work though and I am not sure I really have the room for it but I love it in other gardens.

    1. I have enough prblem plants, so like you Stacy, I think I'll stick to admiring it in someone else's garden for now. I would also like to learn more about the less invasive native species.

  7. We had a wisteria over the veranda at our last house. I'd have one again. The plant does so well in our climate and provides a wonderful fresh green during our very dry summers. I know, from experience, that wisteria needs really good support!

    1. Good to have the balance of this positive feedback Pondside. Was your wisteria a native species or Asian wisteria.

  8. Some types of wisteria are highly invasive here so I don't grow it. But it is so beautiful to see in places where it can't wreak havoc. :o)

  9. I always love to see old buildings covered in wisteria but it does seem to need a lot of attention and I'm not very good up a ladder - so I'll just carry on admiring it in other people's gardens.

  10. garden looks so beautiful , very indulgent eye can see .

  11. When we lived in the Netherlands one of our Dutch neighbors had this beautiful monster.
    The work they put in to keep it tamed was amazing ... so no I think it is not one I would dare bring in to my garden .. I have enough naughty plants as it is ! LOL
    Gorgeous photography as usual Jennifer !
    PS .. I almost felt the sun on my face these pictures were so lovely !

  12. No wisteria here, but even if this house had no garden I would love it for its old brick look with that little glass house....fabulous!

  13. Wisteria is a beautiful plant but has to be kept away from everything else and given a little tender loving care to keep it in check. The American Native Wisteria, which can be substituted for the Asian form, is just as lovely. I enjoyed your wonderful photos and tour of Toronto with a little touch of Provence on this February day!

  14. When living in Italy, I had several Japanese wisterias, lilac and white, and we never had problems in controlling their growth. I adore them and now try to grow some in Finland where they must winter indoors. :)
    Gorgeous photos, as always!


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